Thursday, June 4, 2009

Post-Election Lebanese Possibilities

As someone who has frequently advocated the use of scenario analysis to think about the future, this set of scenarios about the upcoming Lebanese election is irresistable. Brief though they are, these highly valuable scenarios by Qifa Nabki make the point that Lebanon is at a turning point, with dramatically different potential outcomes regardless of which coalition wins. It would have been very nice if Washington had figured that out a few weeks ago, but since it did not, better now than never. More important than who wins may well be how the world treats this tiny, much maligned country.

Washington could do much worse than to sit down with these scenarios and start thinking about the impact of various policies on the likelihood of one or another coming true. The foremost question in the minds of rational Washington decision-makers should not be, "Who will win?" but "What will best preserve the peace and stability of Lebanon?"

Then those decision-makers can move on to another question: "How can the situation in Lebanon be used as a model for managing delicate political rivalries elsewhere in the region?"

The Good…

If March 8 wins, the best scenario it could hope for would be one in which all the March 14 parties agree to participate in a national unity government with a minority veto. A consensus PM would be chosen, and an atmosphere of national reconciliation would prevail. The scenes of MPs embracing each other and agreeing to put past grievances behind them would inspire investor confidence in Lebanon and Saad Hariri would hop on his jet and make a quick tour of Western and Gulf Arab capitals, assuring them that everything in Lebanon was fine, and that nobody should panic about the changing of the guard or about Hizbullah’s weapons. A few months down the road, Hariri himself would sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Hizbullah and Solidere shares would go through the roof.

If March 14 wins, on the other hand, the best it could hope for would be to form a cabinet in which it holds over two thirds of the seats OR a cabinet in which President Suleiman holds the balance through a few loyal ministers, without facing a Hizbullah-Amal boycott. Rather, the opposition parties would happily join the cabinet with no blocking powers, agreeing to settle the thorny issue of the resistance through national dialogue talks, which have worked so brilliantly in the past. In the course of these talks, Hizbullah would agree to disarm of its own accord (because M14 “asked nicely”), donating its guns to another worthy resistance somewhere in the world.

The Bad…

If March 8 wins, the worst that could happen would be a boycott of its cabinet by all of the March 14 parties (with the likely exception of Walid Jumblatt), and a concomitant loss of foreign aid, loan guarantees, and Gulfi tourists. Iran would quickly jump in with an offer to supply the Lebanese army with weapons and training, which would lead Israel to make the case — accepted by the world — that Lebanese officialdom was now an extension of the Iranian Revolution. A couple of months later, a Lebanese shepherd firing his ancient rifle at an Israeli wolf on the border would trigger a massive ground, sea, and air invasion (not countered by a single retaliatory strike from Syria or Iran), and Lebanon would be flattened.

If March 14 wins, its doomsday scenario would be the aforementioned boycott of its cabinet by the FPM and the Shiite parties, and a return to the sit-in days of 2007-08. The coalition splinters as the West grows tired with the Cedar Revolution, and an ignominious settlement reached in Doha (or worse yet, Damascus) returns the country to yet another round of parliamentary elections. This time, March 14 loses in a landslide. Syria offers to send in its troops to stabilize Lebanon from another round of failure and impotence at the highest levels of government, and the West happily agrees. Hail the Third Republic!

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